A Story Around Every Corner

My undergrad journalism unit continues…so far I’ve discovered the importance of talking to anyone and everyone and therefore being a good communicator; writing towards a deadline and using a variety of sources to create a balanced story.

Now comes working the patch, in pairs (for safety reasons), we have been assigned specific areas of Bournemouth, I was lucky enough to receive Springbourne and Lansdowne to work on.

I consulted the Guardian Careers’: diary of a budding journalist for advice. The diary follows one of City University’s MA magazine journalism students, Nikki Osman, who reported on her experiences of working her patch; a corner of London.

Whilst Bournemouth and London hardly compare in terms of the drama and excitement they see, I thought that it would be useful to follow her approach to finding a story. Nikki identifies a difference between finding the story and getting the story.

On a walk through her patch in search of a story she encountered arrests, fights and a business scam as possible leads, all to her disappointment, coming to dead ends. With police refusing to be interviewed, sources not turning up to meetings and a lack of eye-witnesses to substantiate a story it seems that the role of a journalist involves as much chasing as it does writing.

She finally managed to put together a piece, meeting her deadline on a national story. She decided to interview locals from her patch on budget cuts, a story that was bound to provoke reactions. She found that people were more than happy to talk to her, expressing anger at police cuts and telling her their experiences of crime.

So far I have taken a walk through both Springbourne and Lansdowne, my eyes and ears constantly searching for possible leads. Whilst these areas do have a lot going on, sometimes sadly for the wrong reasons, I found it difficult to actually find people to talk to. Timing is always something to be taken in to consideration when looking for people to talk to, I visited my patch on a weekday early afternoon so not surprisingly found few people in the streets.

Nikki noted that incessantly talking to people was the only way to obtain a source for a story. She made several phone calls and interviews before even deciding which story to follow up which is why I am due to meet with several locals this week.

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Braving the Cold

So last week the UK was once again gripped by its all too favourite topic of conversation…the weather.

With temperatures plummeting below -11°C in some parts of the UK, what better time to go out and find a story?

In our journalism seminar we were set the task of going out in to the field to find out how Bournemouth University was coping with the cold. An easy conversation starter, you might think; ‘ask any person in the UK how they’re coping with the weather and you’ll have a friend for life’…I thought in error.

We paired off and set about utilizing our time and trying to come up with an original story, something that no one else will have thought of. We firstly decided to take a practical approach, quizzing university staff, care-takers and car parking attendants on anything that the uni had actually implemented to protect vulnerable students from the menacing chill. To our dismay there were no ground-breaking stories to be had there, so we moved on to the students themselves.

The most interesting headline we could come up with was: “Students risk £900 fine to avoid walking in the cold” referring to information from the car-park attendants on the number of students who risked receiving a fine and being clamped by parking in the staff car park, as opposed to parking outside and making the ten minute walk in.

Whilst we weren’t holding our breaths for a call from the Guardian in want of our hard-hitting journalism, we did find the experience to be very useful. I personally have always been a very quite and shy individual so the task of approaching strangers and starting a conversation is always more than a little daunting for me. I’ll be honest and say that I held back and let my partner do the talking more than I should have but I found that when I did get talking, the conversation came naturally.

It was useful to see the importance of not just interviewing people but in having conversations and getting to know them. Going out there and simply asking “so how are you coping with the cold?” would most likely draw a blank and get a response along the lines of “not too bad”, what a brilliant story that would make! No, the real stories came out after having a bit of a chat. Stating that we were journalism students also made people more prepared to talk; seeing that we had a genuine interest in what they were telling us. When I head out in to the field looking for stories again I will definitely be taking some form of dicta-phone, the stop and start of asking questions and writing down responses broke up the conversation and became a distraction.

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Life or Death Reporting

As mentioned in my previous post I’m pretty in to volunteering. Not wanting to sound preachy or self-righteous but I made the decision to sign up with the British Red Cross partly after experiencing the moment when you wonder ‘where is my life going?’ during my second year of uni, but mostly after watching the Unreported World documentaries.

As anyone who has seen them will know, the subject matter of the films often leave you feeling disgusted with humanity and repeating the question “why?” in your head for days. I think I’m at the age where you question things the most and I suppose studying a media degree might contribute a bit so, as a result, the films left me feeling a little unsettled to say the least.

I felt frustrated watching films that documented human rights violations such as rape being used as a weapon in the Democratic Republic of Congo and babies and toddlers being given heroin as a means of pain relief in Afghanistan. The International Committee of the Red Cross work around the world to safeguard health care and protect civilians from conflicts and natural disasters.

The Unreported World documentaries allows the victims of such crises’ to tell their story to the world and raise awareness in the hope that people will take action and implement change. The stories told in the films are often shocking and highly controversial in some parts of the world, therefore the reporters, producers and fixers that are involved in making them sometimes put their own lives in great danger.

In October 2011 Frontline interviewed members of the Unreported World team some of whom secretly went undercover to report on the Syrian uprisings during President Bashar Al-Assad’s violent attack on protesters in opposition of his regime. They told them that making the films was a completely different experience to news reporting; rather then going straight in with the hard-hitting news questions they felt more inclined to get to know ordinary people and spend more time trying to understand their personal experiences. They agreed that having contacts was key to the success of the films, making contact with fixers in the countries reported on was crucial to gaining a deeper insight.

The above image links to the Syrian Unreported World episode, I think that there a parts of this film that really show the danger that the fixers and reporters put themselves in, living in constant fear of being found out. This really shows the importance of news and the risks that people are prepared to take to show the world their story, it highlights how those involved in the film would risk imprisonment, torture and even death rather than carry on living in that particular situation.

Of course, the people involved in these films are not the only ones risking everything to get the story out to the world. Bloggers and citizen journalists have played a huge part in making the world aware of all that is taking place within the Arab Spring conflicts and as a result put great pressure on their leaders who have betrayed them.

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The Times They Are a-Changin’

I have just had my first session in journalism as part of my communication and media undergrad degree; it has left me feeling excited but slightly terrified!

This blog will now be home to everything journalism in my life, I’ll be sharing my writing, research in to journalism practice and anything that I feel is so brilliant and interesting that everyone in the world needs to know about it.

At 14 I was religiously buying the NME and following everything it said to the letter,  dreaming of one day becoming a music journalist; meeting different bands every week and getting paid to go to gigs.

This led me to pay more attention to English at school and put more effort in to writing assignments, it soon became my favourite subject and the one that I would pursue at sixth form college.

Whilst my love of music remained, the bands on the cover of the NME started to change, I found myself disagreeing with the writers and eventually even feeling irritated by the things they were saying. I’ve come to the conclusion that this is part of growing up, seeing the world around you change at a quicker pace than you can keep up with and so now my interests are quite different.

I have been volunteering for the British Red Cross for a year now and as a result I feel like I’ve learnt more in this year than I have in my entire life. Instead of writing about my favourite bands I instead want to cover international humanitarian law, human rights and global conflicts. I think that journalism is one of the most important tools in putting an end to  human rights violations, giving people a voice that speaks to the entire world and inspiring others to do the same, this is why I’d like to be part of raising awareness of global issues.

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